David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Eccentrics, Education


• As you may expect, cartoonist R. Crumb was an eccentric when he was young. At ages 17 and 18, he wore a stovepipe hat that he had found in a junk store, and he wore a frock coat of the kind that Abraham Lincoln might have worn. He says, “I was a teenage social outcast. At the time it made me feel very depressed, and rejected by girls. Later I realized I was actually quite lucky because it freed me. I was free to develop and explore on my own all these byways of the culture that, if you’re accepted, you just don’t do. I was free to explore the things that interested me.” One of the things that interested him was old-time music such as the blues. At age 17, he read a book titled Jazzmen, which included a chapter about collecting old 78 rpm records. The author had collected many records by going to black neighborhoods, and so R. Crumb tried that. He would buy an old 78 record for a dime. He says, “That’s how I discovered the old blues. It was unknown to me, it sounded very strange at first, but at the same time there was something very attractive about it, the way it grabbed you and got in under your skin, with cadence, with rhythm.”

• Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, collects really strange music. One kind of recordings that he likes is Do-It-Yourself Recordings. On one record that he has, you can hear the wife of one of the musicians say on the record, “Oh, are you recording? Should I turn the dryer off?” He has a DIY album that is rare because most copies were shrink-wrapped on a meat-packing machine — which melted most of the vinyl copies. By the way, Jello enjoys telling a story about German singer Heino, who wore sunglasses and a remarkable blonde hairdo on most of his album covers. A German band called Die Totenhosen — a punk band with humor — had a friend come onstage dressed as Heino with sunglasses and a blonde wig. He claimed to be the real Heino, and he and the band deliberately played Heino’s songs very, very badly. This did not please the real Heino, and he sued. Apparently, he did not think that he ought to be the subject of parody. Die Totenhosen responded by having their fans attend the trial dressed like Heino.


• Naomi Yang of Damon and Naomi (with Damon Krukowski) fame learned to play bass basically on her own, after taking a few lessons from a teacher who knew his stuff but did not appreciate what he knew. The teacher gave her one lesson, and then he asked her to bring in some bass lines that she liked so he could teach her how to play them. She brought in the Joy Division song “Atmosphere,” on which Peter Hook played bass, and the teacher told her, “He’s playing a fifth, and then sliding up one octave.” This is a simple move, and the teacher made the mistake of saying, “What a genius, huh?” This horrified Ms. Yang, who says, “That teacher had just handed me a miracle! That was one of the most beautiful and elegant things I’d ever heard, and it was so simple. Peter Hook wasn’t doing something magical that I couldn’t do; he was doing something very simple that I learned in Bass Lesson Number Two.” But because the teacher did not appreciate the beautiful and elegant playing, she also thought, “I don’t need this teacher anymore!” Still, he had taught her something important: “You don’t have to be a virtuoso to play bass. You can play incredibly simple themes, but they can still be melodic and from the heart.”

• Ana Samways writes an entertaining humor column titled Sideswipefor theNew Zealand Herald. Mike Hickey, one of her readers, sent in this anecdote, which Ms. Samways published under the title “Makes Simon Cowell seem sweet”: “I was competing in a school holiday competition for singing, dancing musicians in a Waikato town hall in the 1950s when I received the ultimate put-down. I was in the third division in which there were only two entrants. Everyone was seated towards the back of the hall with the competitors marshalled in the front rows as they waited to compete. I had to sing first of the two in my division and when I finished there was a pause in proceedings. Then, to my horror, one of the judges came on stage and inquired, ‘Who is the other singer in this division?’ Another boy raised his hand. I was more than a bit demoralised when the judge said, ‘We declare you the winner’ and, looking towards me, ‘because you couldn’t be any worse than him!’ He won without having to open his mouth!” This anecdote illustrates the truth that Humor = Embarrassment + Time.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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2 thoughts on “David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Eccentrics, Education”

  1. I can sympathise with Crumb. In grammar school I insisted on dressing like one of the Our Gang kids, complete with a leather aviator hat and goggles. RE-posted on twitter @trefology

    Liked by 1 person

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